Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Where I'm Going Wrong

My biggest mistake in preparation for the WSOP was not playing some live tournaments beforehand. I walked straight into a $2000 NL and busted out with an internet play that was completely inappropriate for the live tourney situation I was in. I've mentioned the hand before, I raised the button with AJ for 4500 out of about 35K, small blind made it 20K, I had a brain freeze, shoved and lost to QQ.

What was going on subconsciously, I now think, is that the unexploitability devil was sitting on my shoulder going "You can't raise any 2 on the button and then fold everything less than AK/TT to a raise ! That's horribly exploitable !". Like all the devil's promises, it's a half-truth. It is horribly exploitable. If there's anyone behind you capable of exploiting it. Which there wasn't. The small blind was telling everyone how tight he was playing, and the big blind had just arrived to the table but was basically the picture in the poker dictionary next to "old nit". Sure, if he reraised me twice in a row I could re-evaluate, but up until then, unexploitable poker was not what I should have been looking for. They were playing exploitably (too tight) so it was my job to exploit them (by raising frequently but dropping to reraises until I changed my assessment of their play). It's not the same as playing on the Internet where everyone's just an icon and you play the percentages.

A less extreme case came up a couple of days ago. If you've been following the other blog, you'll know about the hand, anyway it's here. Matt made the following comment in a later post :

"Could your style be a little too aggressive? The QJ hand where you busted to AQ on the Q-high flop? I liked the plan of checking the turn so as to be able to check-raise if you smelt a weak stab at it but when they weighed in big-time couldn't you fold? Hellmuth would have folded and he must be doing something right. I completely understand the reasoning behind not folding, and I'd do the same myself in a $50 online donkament, but you don't seem to ever get away from these. Sometimes a player is just telling you that your hand's no good."

Again, creating a 1400 pot pre-flop but declining to put in another 4000 without two pair or better would be horrifically exploitable if anyone caught on to it. But no one has had time to do that, least of all the villain who has only just arrived at the table. Interesting that Matt should mention Hellmuth. For all that I dislike his constant self-aggrandisement, Hellmuth does do a lot right in tournaments against weaker players. One of the things he does is he inhibits the bluff by verbally cowing his weaker opponents. Then when they do move their chips, it's easier for him to fold. In this case, if I can give the guy JJ and 99, or a small chance of being on a total move, it's a borderline call. In the event, maybe a discreet pass would have been the best option that time.

I probably need to lean towards folding a little bit more, at least the first time or two at a particular table. If I start making a habit of folding after taking the lead earlier in the hand, people will pick up on it, and then maybe I can go back to being a non-believer. It would be best to try to fix this before the main event, better late than never, so I should try maybe the Bellagio evening tournament a few times if I'm not in action at the Rio (or even the Rio second chance itself), which applies today, so I think that's what I'll do,

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Full Tilt's Poker Strategy Guide

The other poker book I picked up was the Full Tilt "Poker Strategy Guide" book and I was very pleasantly surprised by this. It's really good. Recently on 2+2 I made a comment along the lines of the tournament book which takes it to "the next level" will have to talk about stealing and restealing with regard to stack sizes. This is the book that does it. I wasn't expecting much more depth than the Email tips they send out (which are fairly basic) but I liked three sections in particular because they went into a lot of detail and were basically in tune with some things I have been mulling over, as follows :

- Andy Bloch sets out a framework for unexploitable pre-flop raising. He does this by working out how many hands you raise with in each position such that if your opponents behind you play back with half the hands you raise with (which is basically what they should do), you'll steal the blinds often enough to make a profit on the steal itself, and of course then some more with post-flop play and the possibility of having a big hand. So if your opponents play back with fewer hands than they should, you make money stealing the blinds ; and if they play back with more hands than they should, you make money from the extra hands they call with because your range is in front. This is something I had thought about doing at one point but basically couldn't be arsed :-). So it's quite handy someone doing it for me for $30. This tells me that, when not short-stacked, I should be raising for value with more hands in late position and calling reraises with more of those hands. There's a fair bit more besides in this chapter, including "game theory" heads-up tables which basically mirror the ones in MOP.

- Chris Ferguson talks about post-flop play with various hands. Now, I'm extrapolating from what Chris is saying here but this is something I've been thinking about on this trip. In a heads-up raised pot, what you can do is have a look at the flop and decide how many bets your hand is worth. So three bets would be a reasonable (maybe 2/3 pot) bet on each street, or a bet on the flop and a raise on the turn. A small pair might be worth one bet, top pair medium kicker two bets, an overpair three bets, and so on. So if your hand is worth X bets and you only have (or your opponent only has) X bets in front of him, then you're going with the hand and it's just a question of whether you want to make the bets or call them. If your hand is only worth one more bet on the turn then you might check and check-call the river, or bet the river if it's checked to you. If you put the "extra" bet in, you're bluffing, likewise if your opponent makes the extra bet then any call is trying to catch a bluff. While watching other hands, you make a note of who puts in "too many" bets for their hand. Obviously reads and turn/river cards come into play too, but the important thing for me is that this gives me a framework to rely on in the absence of any read. If I'm tired or possibly tilting then as long as I know how many bets I "should" put in, then I can hopefully at least stop and think before overplaying my hand for no reason. I'm still working this out. I'd be interested to know whether anyone else thinks along the same lines. Ferguson also agrees with Chen/Ankenman in that if you defend your blind with a call, then you should check the flop pretty much irrespective, and check-raise with a whole bunch of hands.

- Howard Lederer discusses he calls "leverage". With a big stack, this means making small(ish) bets and using the threat of future bets to take pots down without actually risking a lot of your own chips. One thing he stresses that I need to accept is that there's no shame in being knocked off a pot here or there, whether it's pre-flop or post-flop. In fact, this is necessary. You have to put some doubt in your opponents' minds. This helps you collect when you actually have the goods. With a shorter stack, Lederer fully understands the concept of the "efficient" re-stealing stack. He notes that when you're facing a pre-flop raise with say 25 blinds in front of you, it's a really invidious position to be in. If you want to play, you either have to call and try to play the hand out of position, or effectively commit your whole stack pre-flop, giving your opponent the option of surrendering his 3 BB raise or playing his hand for 25 BBs. Again, this leads me to conclude that I should be opening more pots in late position when the stacks are around this kind of size.

Those are the three sections that I really liked and think would be extremely valuable for a lot of players. And there's plenty more besides. Gavin Smith and Ted Forrest are well worth reading, and Lederer's limit hold-em advice is something I'm going to try out in the mixed event and the SHOE. Even Richard Brodie's online advice is reasonably accurate if not especially insightful. I'm not sure about the Omaha chapters but that's my weakest game so maybe I should reserve judgement :-). All in all I definitely recommend this book and yes I'm a sad fanboy but I asked Chris Ferguson to sign my copy when he was on my Stud table the other day. He said he remembered me from "Bar Beat" when I mentioned it but I suspect he was just being polite ... anyway he was a very nice guy.

Disclaimer : Full Tilt pay me a small fixed amount per month for the advert on the left hand side of this page. I hope you trust me enough to realise that this doesn't affect the review I give their book !

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Permission To Exploit

I'm reading an interesting book, "Beyond Tells" by James McKenna. It goes into some detail about the psychology of poker players and gamblers in general. So far, it talks a lot about "permission" and "scripts". Sometimes I think I need to give myself permission to exploit people, within the spirit of the game. Here's a good example from yesterday.

I get heads up with this guy in a satellite, after the usual donktastic antics which I'll spare you. I have a 9K-6K chip lead heads up, when he suggests saving a chip each and playing for the rest. Instead of just saying "No" and playing on, I follow the Camel's advice and make him a counter-offer whereby I save two chips, he saves one and then we play on (it's a $325, so there are 6 chips up for grabs). While I only do this to make sure we are kind of psychologically even (both having made an offer that the other rejected), to my surprise he accepts. He takes a blind or two, then traps me nicely with KQs and I'm left with 600 chips. I make an exciting comeback to 10K-5K up but then back to 9K-6K down. Now he suggests "how about a chop". I think he means chop the rest while maintaining the original save and agree. However it transpires that he meant just chop everything 3 chips each. Once this disconnect is apparent I have to turn it down. Now credit to him, he takes this professionally and we get on with the game, which I eventually win.

While we're waiting for the paperwork I catch myself thinking "I feel bad about this. I made an exploitative deal, lucked out from 600 chips and then refused a deal that was basically the same deal I made but the other way round. Maybe I should give him the $120 cash". And I have to give myself a mental talking to. I don't owe him anything. No one's ever given me extra because they feel sorry for me, I wouldn't expect them to and I wouldn't even want them to, it would be embarrassing. So I give him his $500, we shake hands and game over. I have no reason to feel guilty about turning down deals I don't want or offering deals that are in my favour. It's up to them whether they want to accept. I hereby give myself permission to exploit people, providing it's within the spirit of the game and in a professional manner. There's nothing wrong with that.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Kicking It Live

I had a bit of a "lightbulb over the head" moment this morning after yesterday's bustout hand (detailed here). I'll probably come on to it later in more detail but basically I've become rather too fond of mathematical all-in type moves which are all very well on the internet but when you're playing live, as Fox says, if you know what the other guy has then you can throw the maths book out the window (or defenestrate it, just for Neil). This hand yesterday, looking back it's a bit embarrassing how obvious it was that he had a big hand, given his actions. Doh.

For now though, it's interesting to note some of the technical differences between internet and live play. Namely : a smaller bet will often get the job done ; continuation bets take it down more often ; and about 3/4 of the field have no conception of steal reraising whatsoever. And it's pretty easy to tell which 3/4 (being old is a good pointer).

So if you're confident that no one's going to take liberties behind you, or even if you think one guy might but you know you can safely respect a raise from the others, then shoving all in suddenly becomes a completely unnecessary risk in a lot of situations where it would be the order of the day online. In addition, you now have the option of raising with complete filth and folding to a reraise, at least while your image is good. All this leads to a more "smallball" style which is certainly fun to play around with. I'll have a bash with it this week and see what happens.

[1] Except with a small window of hands which would have to call a reraise for pot odds and would rather force out the extra reraising hands.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Plan Of Attack

So, if I want to put $15K or so into WSOP events prior to the ME, what's my best plan ? As usual, it depends on exactly what I'm trying to do. I want to give myself as good a chance as possible to make a final table and/or trouser a couple of hundred K. The first thing I have to think about here is how to avoid as many of the best players as possible.

"Best players" does not necessarily mean most famous players. Sometimes it does, of course. Ivey is the tournament Guvnor. Lindgren I have tremendous respect for after reading his book. Maybe a couple of others. But a lot of the "faces" would be no more of a concern than top internet players like Rizen, Imper1um, several of the 2+2ers, and so on. So what events are really going to attract the top players from either or both camps ? $50K HORSE would be the obvious choice (starts Sunday 24th June), especially for the live players. I reckon that the $5K Heads Up (Tuesday 19th) will attract all the best live and internet players. Those would be the big two. After those, probably the $3K No Limit (Sunday 17th) because it's televised ; the $5K short-handed (Thursday 28th) ; the $10K PLO (Sunday 1st July) and maybe the $1K rebuy the following day.

If we can pick up on any likely events close to these, ideally starting on the same day, then that sounds good to me. Some candidates are as follows :

$2500 NL Short-handed (Mon 18th) and/or $2000 7 Card Stud (Tue 19th)
$1500 Mixed (NL/Limit) Holdem (Sun 24th) - probably best of all, same day as the $50K
$1000 Stud Hi-Lo (Thur 28th) - I rule at Stud Hi/Lo tournaments
$1000 SHOE (Sun 1st) - I can't play Omaha 8 for toffee but what the hell, donkaments is donkaments.

Damn, that's only $8000 even if I play all of them. I've got to spunk off more money than that. Well anyway, that's a start. Those are good events to target. Checking the list, I might also have a crack at these :

$2000 NL (Friday 15th)
$2000 PL (Friday 22nd) - some of the trip reports I read from the previous PL event featured a lot of unbelievably poor play
$1500 NL (Saturday 30th)

That's the kind of schedule I might be looking at, 8 bracelet events. Mix in a few $500 single tables (playing to win), the odd $1000 (chop OK I suppose as long as it's fair) and we'll keep an eye on what's going on in the Bellagio - $2500 on the 26th catches the eye as that's a bit of a lull in the NL action at the Rio, so it might be full of donks, and maybe the 3rd as well, if I don't feel like I need a break before the ME. And while I really like the Venetian card-room, $500 is just too small for a balla like me :-). Especially as I've just read a claim on 2+2 that if anything the $500s at the Venetian are slightly _tougher_ than the $1500s in the Rio in terms of standard of opposition.

Evening tournaments don't appeal at the moment, I read a good post on another blog recently which said that you don't mind playing at 10pm so much if you're 10 hours in to the tournament because now it's really starting to matter, and the adrenaline keeps you going. I know from past experience that being 3 hours in to an evening comp that you weren't sure about playing in the first place is really no fun if you don't have a big stack and you need matchsticks to prop your eyelids up.

So we'll give that a spin and see what comes of it. Should be fun whatever happens.

Update : I'm now thinking about playing the $1500 Shootout on Tuesday to kick it off. Although it's the day after I arrive, the shootout format has a lot of features that favour playing anyway (probably won't take long whatever, I can pushbot fairly early, only a two day event). If the lines aren't ridiculous and I feel OK on Tuesday morning, I'll probably play it.


Pre-Game Pep Talk

Well, it's hotting up in Vegas now and I'm looking forward to playing. Before I do, I should just set out what my goal is here because it's a little bit different, I think, to what most people are doing (if they even go as far as planning it out).

Most people (who aren't being staked, which more and more are every year) are kind of going out there with the attitude that they want to give themselves a chance to win big and strap on that bracelet without doing their bollocks while they're at it. Also, a few people will be going out there with the same mindset that I have had before, for example last year, in that they're just going out there to earn money (which means single-table satellites, smaller tournaments and maybe ignoring the bracelet events entirely). As such, they will be looking to reduce variance as much as they can, whether it's by buying/selling/swapping percentages, by playing satellites to "earn" the entry fee, by playing cash on the side, or whatever.

I'm taking a different tack. I'm basically going out there with $35K (including expenses) which I'm prepared to wave goodbye to. Obviously I'd rather not, but if I have to, I will. While it's all one big pot, it helps me to compartmentalize this a little as the $10K I've won playing WSOP double shootouts on Stars and the $24K I won heads up on Party (60 for first compared to 36 for second), when we were basically level in chips and I found KK v his A7. So I'm taking this money and trying to maximize my chance of spinning it up to $200-300K. As such, I'm not particularly looking to reduce variance (unless we start talking about final tables with prize differentials of more than that).

So don't expect to see me playing $125 single tables and $300 MTTs, profitable though they might be. Basically if I want to grind, I could do that better right here in my front room. Don't be upset or offended if I decline to sell action, swap percentages [1], chop satellites, and so on. It's not necessary for me because I'm not looking to reduce variance. And if I should cash for say $5K somewhere along the line (whether through minor place or $500 STT) then I'll look to spin that up in maybe the $5K short-handed or a $5K at the Bellagio.

So many people give it large about expecting to win or being prepared to win, and so on. Poker doesn't work like that. Saying I expect to lose sounds unduly negative but I am definitely prepared to lose. All of it. It's only internet dollars. In a strange way (or maybe not so strange), this gives me an advantage over anyone who is looking over his shoulder wondering if the ATM will cough up tomorrow.

[1] Although I am happy to do these with people who have obliged me with the same things in the past, I think that's only professional courtesy.

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